A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.
1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
2 Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
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3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5 like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.
Psalm 88 is commonly acknowledged as the darkest psalm in the Psalter. The inscription before this psalm says it is “according to Mahalath Leannoth,” which means, “a song for the sick.” Why would God want his people to sing such a depressing and discouraging lament when they gather?
Pain is Part of Scripture
Let us first look at the author’s situation.
In verses 3 to 5, he says, “My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.” The psalmist is extremely disappointed. In verses 6 to 8, he says, “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.” He is despised, overwhelmed, and isolated. In verses 9 to 14, he says, “Every day I call upon you, O Lord.” Yet the Lord hides his face from the psalmist. And in verses 15 to 17, he says he has been “afflicted and close to death from my youth up…my [friends] shun me, my companions have become darkness.”
However, after reading this Psalm, my heart was especially comforted, because the Bible genuinely describes the psalmist’s struggles and helplessness. The Bible includes his disappointment, confusion, and even his doubts about God. In the midst of these struggles, the author chooses to pour out his heart and sorrow to God: “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you.” (v. 1)
In the face of the uncertainty and confusion of the COVID pandemic, some brothers and sisters will feel uneasy in their hearts. Bring your inner tumult to God: he knows you and accepts you. Faced with the deterioration of the faith environment in this country and the winds of persecution, some brothers and sisters will be weak and fearful. Bring your weakness and your fear to God: he knows you and accepts you. Faced with the unjust arrest of God’s servants, some brothers and sisters will grumble and question God’s lovingkindness. Come to God with your questions: he knows you and accepts you.
God Has Not Left Us
Has the “God of my salvation” really forsaken us or hidden his face from us? No, he has not!
Instead, God forsook and hid his face from his own Son, in order that we may be saved. On the cross, the Lord Jesus bore the sins of his people. Because of the depth and gravity of our sin, God predestined that his son, Jesus Christ, would pay the price of death. Matthew 27:45-46 says, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
On the cross, the most innocent Son suffered the loneliest, cruelest darkness and abandonment ever. Because he was forsaken, we are accepted by God. This love and acceptance, which was demonstrated on the cross, encouraged and accomplished the Psalmist’s cry to God, even in the midst of great tribulation. It also encouraged and accomplished the cries to God of the suffering saints through the ages.
God Is Peace; We Are Not
Recently, I visited a wife whose husband had been arrested [for his faith]. I was able to read the letter her husband sent her from his detention center. As I read, I felt the comfort the Holy Spirit had placed in his heart.
Her husband wrote: “On that day, I received a warrant for my arrest. With tears in my eyes, I whispered the song of the king (Jehovah sits as king). That day, I also heard good news from you, my wife. I said to the Lord, my king, “Yes, you have engraved me on your hand. You are peace, and I am not.” My tears became tears of hope. However, when it is late at night, great loneliness comes on me. Every unexpected setback affects my fragile nerves. I finally understand why Leonard Cohen spent his life composing that complex ‘Hallelujah’ song. Indeed, weakness is not a human shame. What matters is that we are determined to spend our entire life to overcome it.”
Pray with me.
Ai (a pseudonym) was converted in 2004. She is married to a preacher, lives in a city on the southeast coast of China, and is studying for ministry alongside her husband.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you that we can still call on you in the midst of great distress. The COVID pandemic is raging all over the world, bringing the threat of death and of economic collapse, but you are the God who saves us. Grant us the surprising peace of Christ to keep our hearts and minds, that our hope may not lie in the disappearance of the pandemic, but in you alone.
Blessed are your churches, O Lord, who face persecution from the government and whose preachers are arrested, because they are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Keep them, especially in the guardhouse and the prison, that they may look to and rely on you. Just as you were with Paul and your saints, so continue your faithful love towards our brothers and sisters in prison. May their fellow prisoners and the public prosecutors with whom they come in contact know that they are bound for the sake of Christ. Because of these persecutions, may the brothers and sisters of the church become convicted and bold to preach the word of God without fear.
Lord, take special care of the wives and children of these arrested brothers. You count and keep the sorrows, sighs, and tears of these women and children. Give them patience to wait for you. Provide for all they need in life, that they may walk with you and experience your power.
Above all, Lord, may you dwell in us. May the Holy Spirit daily come to reprove and remind us of our sins, that we may daily confess and repent of them. May we each day rely on the salvation of the cross and live a life of sacrificial love, that others may see your humility within us.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!